Recently a narrative has taken hold: Ontario’s manufacturing sector is uncompetitive and in decline. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. Manufacturing is entering a new, innovation-driven era that will play to our strengths.
Many manufacturers are thriving in Ontario and Canada – including in the auto industry. We are seeing exciting opportunities in all types of vehicles: electric, hybrid and internal combustion. There will continue to be a mix of vehicle types for at least the next two decades.
So how does Ontario win in this environment?
Ontario is particularly well positioned today because we not only boast a world-class manufacturing sector, but also a world-class technology sector. The Toronto-Waterloo corridor has the second-highest density of technology startups in the world, behind only Silicon Valley. This intersection of technology and manufacturing is the nucleus of advanced manufacturing.
The next generation of manufacturing facilities will make even greater use of sensors, robotics and artificial intelligence, which will require an ecosystem of innovative suppliers and skilled workers. Ontario has these in abundance.
To future-proof its industry, Ontario needs to double down on support for its innovation economy by focusing on three areas:
Investing in education for a changing work force
Ontario’s manufacturing sector has been contending with a skills shortage for many years. The province needs to take a hard look at its education system to make sure it is graduating more students with the skills they need to find employment. The jobs are there – in fact, manufacturers are looking for more and more people. We must also encourage companies to invest in boosting the skills of their labour force to help workers adapt as the industry changes. In a future of increased automation, skilled people and their innovative ideas will be the heart of the manufacturing industry.
Expanding the startup ecosystem
The best insurance against being buffeted by world currents is to build global companies. Entrepreneurs can be found anywhere, from Whitby to Windsor, Sudbury to St. Catharines. Consider Real Tech, which is helping to modernize global water systems using artificial intelligence. Or Myant, which is leading the world in textile computing to revolutionize the role textiles can play in our lives. Startups connected to MaRS, a Toronto innovation centre, employ more than 12,800 people, and will hire even more as they grow. Communitech in Waterloo has supported thousands of companies and created 16,000 jobs. Supporting entrepreneurship also offers a potential new path for laid-off workers who want to leverage their skills, experience and contacts.
Building cross-sector partnerships that can help anticipate future developments
It’s vital that our manufacturers are plugged into the innovation sector to help them understand what capacities and workforce skills they will need in the future. Consortiums such as the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, or Ontario’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, NGen, bring together researchers and leaders from different industries to anticipate where disruption will come from, spot where the opportunities lie and work collaboratively to build solutions.
The days when a factory employed an entire town to assemble automobiles may be over, and we must acknowledge what that means for the communities affected. But reports of the death of manufacturing are wildly exaggerated. In the future it might look different, but manufacturing will absolutely still be the backbone of Ontario’s economy.